Accomplices to a coup: Trump's lackeys must be held to account for the Big Lie

If they had the guts to confront him for once, he might have realized that it was time to concede the election

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 15, 2022 9:59AM (EDT)

Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Bill Barr (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump and Bill Barr (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Back in 2018, the New York Times published an anonymous op-ed called "I am part of the resistance inside the Trump administration." It set off quite a stir throughout Washington and got everyone in the executive branch looking over their shoulders wondering if their officemate might be the writer. Donald Trump had a fit, of course, and set off on a crusade to find the nefarious leaker. Before too long, however, the whole thing had blown over and we were off to the next crisis. But the idea that there was a "resistance" to Trump's unpredictability and ineptitude within the government soothed many people and led to a certain complacency that there were "grown-ups" stopping the president from going off the rails and keeping the engine of government humming.

The author wrote:

[W]e believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office.

The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

This wasn't a complete surprise. From the moment Trump was inaugurated there were almost daily reports of the chaos inside the White House and it was obvious from his public appearances that he was in over his head. The turnover was unprecedented with Trump firing people nearly every week and others being forced to resign under a cloud of corruption and scandal.

This op-ed suggested that we needn't worry about all that. Yes, Trump was a complete disaster, but anonymous heroes were on the inside working to preserve our constitutional order. It was a pompous, self-serving declaration that was also total nonsense. The chaos itself was tremendously damaging, causing disruption and confusion day in and day out. Trump was systematically destroying the United States' reputation around the world which is a very dangerous situation for the world's only military superpower. And when confronted with a real crisis, as we were with the global pandemic, a dysfunctional government led by an incompetent narcissist was naturally overwhelmed.

The government may have been running during Trump's term but it was on fumes. All Trump had to do was light the match and the whole thing could have blown up. It almost did.

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In September 2020 we learned the author of that op-ed was a senior DHS employee named Miles Taylor who finally quit the administration and more or less admitted that the "grown-ups" had failed. He and other horrified Trump administration alumni signed letters saying Trump should not be re-elected and made appearances on TV trying to persuade the public that the country couldn't tolerate another four years of him. The majority of the public agreed and Joe Biden was elected to replace him.

The January 6 committee is now looking closely at what happened after that in the period between the election and the Capitol riot. What they have found is that the remaining protectors of the guardrails didn't do much to stop Trump from attempting to overturn the election.

Their reticence to do something other than watch from the sidelines led to Trump empowering Rudy Giuliani and the rogues gallery of misfits and weirdos who helped him spread the Big Lie that led to the insurrection. Some of the anonymous heroes even suggested in the press that Trump just needed to cry it out and then he would bow out gracefully. The Jan 6 committee hearing this week revealed that within the White House during this period they called themselves "Team Normal" apparently because they knew the Big Lie was a big lie and they didn't go out of their way to help Trump spread it. However, some helped Trump lay the groundwork for his claims that the election was being rigged and only balked after the fact when he insisted that it was. Some of them helped him raise hundreds of millions of dollars in a clear-cut scam while others are even currently working for people who are running for office on the Big Lie platform. They all stayed mum about what Trump and his crazy accomplices were up to. It's good they are telling the truth under oath to the committee but it doesn't speak well of them that they didn't step up when it really counted. Their silence led to death and mayhem and an ongoing crisis in our democracy.

The Washington Post reported some new details about the one group in "Team Normal" who did manage to hold Trump back from doing his worst in those final days: the lawyers in the Department of Justice(DOJ) and the White House Counsel's office. While Jared Kushner testified that he dismissed them as a bunch of whiners, it was their threats to quit that kept Trump from firing the Acting Attorney General and replacing him with an obscure toadie named Jeffrey Clark who was somehow persuaded that he could take over the DOJ and use it to help Trump overturn the election.

The Post describes a meeting two days before the insurrection in which Trump seemed to be prepared to take that step until the lawyers made it clear that if he did, he wouldn't just be firing the top two lawyers in the DOJ, nearly 50 of the top lawyers in the department would quit as well. Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, called it a "murder-suicide pact." Trump relented. And it's interesting what he allegedly said to Clark:

"These guys are going to quit. Everyone else is going to resign. It's going to be a disaster. The bureaucracy will eat you alive. And no matter how much you want to get things done in the next few weeks, you won't be able to get it done, and it's not going to be worth the breakage."

Considering it was coming from a man who was neck-deep in fantasy, that sounds like a pretty rational assessment, doesn't it? It makes you wonder what might have happened if the whole "Team Normal" had come to Trump and said they were going to walk out en masse, hold a press conference and tell the country that the election was not stolen and that Trump was lying to them. They all knew that was the truth.

I don't know what Trump would have done but in this one instance at least he seems to have understood that destroying his administration in order to save face wasn't worth the "breakage." Maybe if they had the guts to confront him for once, he might have realized that it was time to throw in the towel. After all, it only would have taken two little words from Trump and the insurrection wouldn't have happened. All he needed to say was "I concede." 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Elections 2020 Gop Jan. 6 Committee Jan. 6 Hearings Rudy Giuliani The Big Lie